Investors and consumers are regaining confidence in the travel industry.
Last week, full-service property management company Vacasa announced a $108 million investment round, a bit of good news for the travel and hospitality world, which has been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic, from airlines to hotels and vacation rental services such as Airbnb and Vrbo, which Vacasa partners with to boost the reach of its hosts’ homes.
“We manage the entire vacation rental management process from start to finish, including marketing and booking, housekeeping and maintenance,” said Vacasa interim CEO Matt Roberts.
With reopening underway across the country, investors are hopeful for a comeback. Vacasa is already reporting that guest reservations in May were up sixfold over April. Whereas in April the average booking was 142 days out, that window decreased to 40 days by mid-May, nearly the same as in 2019.
“We are seeing a resurgence in vacation rental demand, and we have a strong summer outlook,” Roberts said.
Even so, customers are still uncomfortable staying in close quarters with other guests or traveling in crowded modes of transportation, according recent survey results from the CDC.
As consumers take baby steps back to their normal lives, they are valuing services that place an emphasis on cleanliness, safety and health-first approaches. Rental services have responded by expanding sanitization and other safety protocols to meet that demand.
Stephen Darling, a tourism industry professional who now leads his own hospitality consulting practice, said a variety of factors, from price to convenience, spurs families to choose vacation rental properties over hotels.
“If there is family travel involved, there is far more flexibility for families with young children as compared to hotels,” he said. “The facilities are more extensive, and often include a kitchen, laundry and individual bedrooms.
“People also choose vacation rentals because of the price point,” he added. “Typically, a vacation rental, which doesn’t have once or twice-a-day room attendant service, a concierge, etc. is going to be less expensive.”
Darling said choosing between a vacation rental and a hotel comes down to the length of stay.
“When people are traveling, whether it’s on business or leisure, and they’re going to be there for five to 15 or 20 days, most people get tired of living in a hotel because it’s not really living, it’s staying,” he added, whereas vacation rentals, because of their space and facilities, are “a little bit more of a livable stay.”
Vacation rentals allow guests to drive directly to their property, stay there without coming into contact with strangers, and then drive directly home. To further reassure consumers, services such as Airbnb, Vrbo and Vacasa are all implementing additional cleaning and safety measures.
In late April, Airbnb launched the Enhanced Cleaning Initiative, which includes a 24-hour buffer between stays and an enhanced sanitization protocols. If hosts cannot implement these new cleaning measures, they must wait 72 hours between bookings. Guests are able to view which hosts participate in the cleaning protocol before reserving a stay.
Vacasa, which places all of its customers’ rental homes on Airbnb, offers hosts professional cleaning services in between stays so hosts do not have to clean themselves or hire a cleaning company, as well as an upgraded linen program that provides fresh bedsheets and towels for guests along with laundering them between stays and replacing them at least once a year.
The company also provides an amenities starter kit for guests, which includes “hair and body care products, cleaning supplies, and additional stock of basic household items like paper towels, toilet paper, a new sponge, dishwashing soap and laundry detergent.”
In preparation for reopening rentals, Vacasa launched an updated cleaning protocol designed to minimize risk for guests and employees, which it says “meets or exceeds CDC recommendations and aligns with guidance from hospitality industry experts, such as the Vacation Rental Management Association’s SafeHome guidelines.”
“Our guests and homeowners have reacted very positively to our Vacasa Premium Clean program,” Roberts said. “It is our belief that guests will prioritize cleanliness and privacy as we emerge from the pandemic.”
Before the outbreak, the Portland-based startup was recovering from the departures of CEO Eric Breon and chief technology officer Tim Goodwin. When Covid-19 struck, Vacasa experienced a “significant decline in reservations and revenue,” which forced it to make staffing changes, including layoffs, paycuts for executives and a cut in hours for some workers. The investment round brings new hope to Roberts for the company’s future.
“As we begin to emerge from this global crisis with an infusion of capital, we are in a very strong financial position to capture consumer demand,” Roberts said in a statement.
Joerg Adams, managing director for investor Silver Lake, which led the funding round, said the investment “enables the company to continue to innovate and to maintain its strong growth trajectory.”
Vacasa’s experience may indicate how consumers will prioritize both travel and day-to-day activities as society emerges from the pandemic.
“We know, from statistics, that people will start very close to home, and regional travel will resume first,” Darling said. “It is most likely to be more regional travel by car, as opposed to an airplane or a train. That is going to give mom and pop and the kids a greater sense of security and safety.”